2-MARIA SHARAPOVA vs. 19-NADIA PETROVA
This battle between one Russian who owns two places in the United States and considers it her home (Sharapova) and another Russian who is trying to get U.S. residency and owns a home in Miami (Petrova) should be a fantastic contest if Petrova plays as well as she is capable of. But that’s no guarantee, for while she has beaten Sharapova once before, it was in a dead-rubber match in a round robin at the 2005 WTA Championships, when Sharapova did not need to win the match to advance and described herself as a walking zombie on the day.
But give credit where credit is due, and at the very least, Petrova has played Sharapova very tough at times, including a dramatic 6-4 in the third set loss in the 2005 US Open quarters.
But the fact of the matter is that Sharapova is better, which is why she has defeated the 30-year-old eight out of the nine times they have faced each other.
It's rare to find a power player who can’t out-leg Sharapova who can actually beat her, and that is the case with Petrova, who is no faster than the now-single 25-year-old. Petrova does have a better serve and volley, but Sharapova is more effective off the ground and with her return. This contest will be close, but at the end, Sharapova will pull off a hearty three-set victory.
5-PETRA KVITOVA VS. 11-MARION BARTOLI
The weather has been hot and humid during the past few days, which is anti-Kvitova weather, given that she suffers from asthma. But at least so far she has survived the difficult conditions, and she has been playing brilliantly since she landed on North American soil. She is dictating with her forehand, landing her backhand deep, locating her serve and competently putting away volleys. The big Czech is one of the biggest hitters on tour and is capable of winning every event when she catches fire.
But Bartoli has been a giant killer before, and while she has not had a great summer on hard courts, she’s been saving her energy for the US Open, as she’s been pining to reach the second week in NYC. She took out Kvitova on grass at Eastbourne in 2011, but earlier last month, the 22-year-old destroyed her in Montreal.
This match rests in the Czech’s hands. If she starts slow and lets the humidity get to her, she’s vulnerable to an upset. But if she keeps her head cool and dictates the way she’s capable, she will get through in two tough sets. I will go with the latter performance rather than the former.
OTHER WOMEN’S MATCHES OF NOTE:
There have been too many times over the decade that I have ignored a young player’s hot streak and went with the veteran, which is why I’m going with my gut this time around and picking British 18-year-old Laura Robson to upset defending champion Samantha Stosur, which would be her third victory over a Slam champ in a row. If she pulls off that feat, she’ll earn herself an audience with Queen Elizabeth II…No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has an open road to the semis and should be able to smoke Anna Tatishvili. It’s possible that “Vika” will enter the quarters without having dropped three games in a set.
9-JOHN ISNER VS. 19-PHILIPP KOHLSCHREIBER
The tall American has not shown his best at this tournament, but he hasn't had to. However, if he doesn't come out firing against the underrated and sometimes excellent Kohlschreiber, he could be in deep trouble because the German is fast, can pound balls from the back court and has a deceptively good first serve. The good news for Isner is that the two have played three times, and he has won every contest. The so-so news is that Kohlschreiber took him to 6-4 in the third set at Montreal last month, so he certainly can play him very close.
The key for Isner as always is to take care of his service games, not waste a lot of energy holding and to try and attack at every opportunity during his return games. Kohlschreiber has to do a standout job returning and must extend Isner in as many rallies as possible. There will be a heated battle to control the center of the court, which will be won by Isner in four sets. Be very aware of Big John in the second week.
13-RICHARD GASQUET VS. STEVE JOHNSON
Once considered to be one of the most enigmatic talents on tour, Gasquet has become much more dependable than he once was. He is no longer a petulant youngster, nor a guy who consistently gets down on himself when he plays badly. He has dug himself into the top 15, not just because he has beautiful groundstrokes but also because he has improved his conditioning and court stewardship.
In two-time NCAA champion Johnson, he'll be facing a fast, attacking player who already seems to have found his groove on the pro tour. He’s pretty solid all round, can volley and give his groundies a rip. He’s far from a finished product, so he may very well become the first four-year college graduate to become a top-10 player since John Isner.
However, he has never beaten the likes of Gasquet, who is very hard to figure out for a younger player who has not consistently faced that high level of competition. Johnson does have enough weaponry to threaten him but not to beat the Frenchman, who will come through in three long sets.
OTHER MEN’S MATCHES OF NOTE:
If you want to see two guys who will literally die on court in pursuit of victory, go see fourth seed David Ferrer and 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt battle it out. Make sure to get there early, though, as Hewitt is contending with bloody toes that he developed in his marathon five-set win in the previous round. The Aussie had steel rods inserted in his toes during a recent surgery, so clearly he is willing to do anything to stay in the game. But bionic feet or not, the strong-legged Spaniard will wear him down in four sets…Andy Roddick played his best match of the year in dispatching Bernard Tomic and should be able to take care of Fabio Fognini but must do so in under three hours to save his aching shoulder for a potential dynamite clash against Juan Martin del Potro….Alex Dolgopolov vs. Stan Wawrinka is a toss up, but I’ll go with the bubbly Dolgo…I can’t see Julien Benneteau upsetting Novak Djokovic, but I can see him hanging with the defending champion for two sets of his three-set loss to the Serbian.